Messi, Ronaldo reach record 41-goal mark

aLionel Messi went level with Cristiano Ronaldo's record of 41 league goals for the season on Saturday when he scored twice in Barcelona's come-from-behind 2-1 win over Levante.

Updated: April 15, 2012 08:53 IST
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Madrid: Lionel Messi went level with Cristiano Ronaldo's record of 41 league goals for the season on Saturday when he scored twice in Barcelona's come-from-behind 2-1 win over Levante.

The victory closed the gap on Real Madrid to four points with El Clasico to come next weekend.

Earlier Real beat Sporting Gijon 3-1 with Ronaldo hitting his 41st league goal of the campaign, beating his own record set last year, but Argentine star Messi was quick to reply just hours later.

Levante had gone ahead from a 23rd minute penalty, converted by Jose Barkero after a foul by Sergio Busquets, but with Barcelona heading for defeat Messi hit a second half brace.

His second, from the penalty spot after a foul by Pedro Botelho on Juan Cuenca, drew him level with his great Portuguese rival.

A Sergio Ramos handball had seen Miguel Angel De las Cuevas put Sporting ahead against Real from the penalty spot before Gonzalo Higuain equalised with a header after 36 minutes.

Ronaldo finally broke Sporting's resistance with a header after 73 minutes and following the dismissal of Roberto Canella for a second yellow card, Karim Benzema hit the third which was Real's record 107th goal of the season.

It puts them level with John Toshack's Real Madrid team in the 1989-90 season with Jose Mourinho's side still with five matches to play.

"The records come as a result of the work of all the players who have given so much and deserve to be champions. For those who say that Mou (Jose Mourinho) is a defensive coach then you just need to look at these statistics," said Real assistant coach Aitor Karanka.

Nuri Sahin began in midfield for Real alongside Sami Khedira, with Xabi Alonso suspended.

Jose Callejon was included in a four-pronged attack with Benzema on the bench, with Mourinho perhaps holding him back for the Champions League semi-final with Bayern Munich on Tuesday.

The first clear opening fell to Sporting's Gaston Sangoy after 13 minutes.

He stole the ball off Alvaro Arbeloa, the last man, but his shot was palmed away by keeper Iker Casillas.

Sporting had most of their players encamped in and around their penalty area in a very defensive formation and Real were struggling to break them down.

Instead, at the other end, in another foray forward, Sporting won a controversial penalty after Ramos slid in to clear the ball and the referee claimed he handled.

De las Cuevas sent the ball straight down the middle of the goal to give Sporting the lead.

The tension was building but Real responded with first Khedira going close with a shot from the edge of the area and then Higuain headed in the equaliser.

Ramos crossed for the Argentine who had not been picked up by Sporting defence and he knocked the ball past keeper Juan Pablo.

Mourinho brought on Benzema and Angel Di Maria for the second half but while Real had almost continual possession in the Sporting half the visitors defended valiantly and closed down the spaces.

Ronaldo had further shots from distance and Benzema missed a half chance but they appeared to be lacking inspiration before Ronaldo headed in a Di Maria cross when Real needed him most.

Canella who was already on a yellow card picked up a second for a foul on Di Maria and then, nine minutes from the end, Benzema sealed the win with a shot from a Mesut Ozil pass.

Barcelona had a depleted defence with Dani Alves and Gerard Pique only fit for a place on the bench along with Andres Iniesta who was rested with Chelsea up next in the Champions League.

It was a familiar start though for the Catalan side who pressed Levante back with their incisive football.

Pedro Rodriguez had a shot saved by keeper Gustavo Munua and Thiago Alcantara headed wide as Barca looked comfortable in possession.

Levante set their stall to defend deeply and try and find the pace and strength of frontman Arouna Kone on the counter.

It was a policy which paid dividends as they took the lead against the run of play from the penalty spot after a handball from Busquets.

Keeper Victor Valdes was unable to hold a corner and Busquets blocked a header from Juanfran Garcia with his hand. The referee awarded a penalty which was converted clinically by Barkero.

Barca's cause was starting to look increasingly forlorn when Messi drew them level from the edge of the area.

Then following a foul by Pedro Botelho on Juan Cuenca, Messi won the game for Barcelona from the penalty spot.

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  • Football
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